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Monday, January 26, 2015

Tempting Fate? Ensenada, Mexico - Part 1

It’s New Year’s Eve, 1979. I’m here in Ensenada with my friend, Frank, trying to get into just the right amount of trouble before the big hair era of the 80’s begins.  We’ve been drinking our way northward on Avenida Lopez Mateos steadily and the hours are getting late.

We find ourselves at a bar that’s not my favorite but is the oldest and most famous here, Hussong’s.  After another strong shot of some forgotten cocktail, we wander outside onto Avenida Ruiz.

Hundreds of people are milling about and as we wander down the street, as if a light were flicked on, everybody starts fighting. Frank and I do not know what caused this, only that we don’t want to end up in jail or worse on this night due to rioting.

Ducking down the first side street we see, we find a quieter area, then down another side street where we see a half dozen policemen standing around a car, shining their flashlight inside where a dead body is sitting up in the back seat.

Welcome to  Baja…

Watch the Video!

It’s been twenty six years since I’ve driven down to this port city. American tourism has suffered a great crash due to the news coverage of the drug wars going on in Mexico. In Ensenada itself, cartel violence hit when 18 people were murdered in El Sauzal, the small town just north of Ensenada, in 1998. 

It’s been 15 years since that nadir in the drug wars here. Although I’ve always felt safe traveling down here, the sensational news still gives one pause, incidents like the New Year’s Eve riot linger in the back of my mind, and some friends and relatives think I’m out of my mind to even think of a trip like this.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say there was some trepidation but after an hour on the road after crossing the border, I feel like I’m stepping back into a comfortable pair of old shoes. I almost feel at home and completely safe.

Frustration occurs when I try to book a wheelchair accessible room. I had called the San Nicolas, a nice hotel with old memories for me, and asked. They said their 30 inch doors were too narrow. When I said Tim’s chair was 26 inches wide, they said the bathroom door was too narrow. When I asked if someone could measure the door, the answer was “perhaps you’d be happier somewhere else.”

That went on with about a half dozen hotels before one finally said yes but they wanted me to send my credit card information via e-mail, which made me uncomfortable.  I had wanted to stay in the heart of town but finally decided on Estero Beach Resort, six miles south of downtown, because I know it’s nice and they were happy to provide an accessible room.

Fighting the local traffic in this town that has grown much in the last quarter century, I’m waiting to get south of town to where I know Estero Beach sits well past civilization. Past the Sam’s Club, the Wal Mart, the Home Depot, and even the Costco…Ensenada has come a long way.

I’m still waiting in this hectic drive to get out of town when I just see the sign…Estero Beach, turn right at next signal.  Wow…It used to sit out in the country…well south of town, now it’s right in town.

I make the turn and drive through a rough-hewn neighborhood with hotels that charge low rates for 3 hour blocks.  I get to the end, turn left, and there’s the arch to Estero Beach with its guard shack and barrier.

We get to the front office and registration. The manager asks if I’ve stayed here before. “Around thirty years ago,” I answer.

“I think you might notice a few changes,” he deadpans.

He says the room is accessible “only a couple of steps.” Really?  I can’t have one step I assure him.  He sends an assistant with me to the room (which is still a quarter mile drive away) to explore “options.”

We get to the parking lot, go up two ramps, and there’s the front door. “Where are the two steps?” I ask. There are none…the manager was just a bit confused, I guess.

The room itself is huge. Two queen beds in a 400 square foot space, large dresser, dining table and chairs, and great Mexican artwork.  Add in the large bathroom…which is accessible only in that a wheelchair can roll in and access everything (no grab bars or roll in showers here)…and the foyer/closet and you’ve got 500 square feet.

A floor to ceiling patio door window gives a great view of the ocean with a nice little patio outside with the most uncomfortable Adirondack chairs I’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting in.

Just a few feet outside of our room is a malecon, a seawall, which we can stroll along the bay. Tim and his chair have to detour around the building but it’s still not a long way. 

We explore the seafront of the resort and the fun looking free-form pool with the swim up bar. It’s way too cold for us (in the 40s and 50s) to think about taking a plunge but several kids staying at the resort are still in the heated waters.  It’s nice to know that there’s a ramped entrance into the water for another time when we can come when it’s warmer. No lift, but we can handle a ramp.

For now, our bright yellow pool access wristbands will just go to waste but others are not so easily swayed. About a half dozen kids make their presence in the pool known.

After a four hour drive from L.A. and unpacking, it’s over to La Terraza…the resort’s restaurant and bar…for dinner. We have some average margaritas, chips, and salsa along with some superior chile rellenos and deep fried tacos.

A relaxing walk along the malecon in front of our room, and then we retire to watch some scratchy Mexican TV and get a good night sleep before we explore the town tomorrow.

Stay tuned...

Copyright 2012 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Cocktail Hour - Amarita

This is a drink of my own invention.  Sometimes, I just like to play around with what's in by bar and see what comes out.  Sort of like a Dr. Frankenstein of alcohol.  Here's one that came out good.  The others?  Just don't look in the dungeon.

Watch the Video!

Amarita Recipe (two drinks)
3 oz - tequila
2 oz - amaretto
1/2 oz - triple sec
1/2 oz - lime juice

Before mixing, put two cocktail (martini) glasses in the freezer.  Put all ingredients into a cocktail shaker half full of ice and shake.  Remove the glasses from the freezer, they should frost up immediately.  Strain into the glasses.

Beware...this is a strong drink!


Friday, January 23, 2015

If We Can Just Make it to the Border Before Sundown...Baja Bound

Part of the allure of travelling is going someplace new. Exotic. Off the beaten path. We’ve often had some of our best adventures by pointing ourselves away from where everyone else is going.

We’ve had great times in Yuma, Arizona; Carson City, Nevada; Cortez, Colorado; Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, and…of course…our great and very fun weekends up to Bakersfield. None of these are what you would call tourist hot spots.

Seems like we’ve mined out much of what is local and easy to reach for us but there’s also a great big country just south of us where adventure awaits around every turn. Sometimes it can feel dangerous, most of the time it feels foreign, and all of the time it surprises.

I’m talking about Mexico, which for me is a wonderful place to visit but for Tim it’s a place of obstacles to access. Mexico is about 20 to 30 years behind the USA in terms of wheelchair access but there are signs of improvement.

When I was younger, we’d go down frequently, mostly to beach cities like Ensenada on the Pacific Coast and San Felipe or Guaymas in the Sea of Cortez.  When Tim was young, it was almost an annual tradition to spend some time each fall in Puerto Vallarta and, with my wife being Mexican, we got to spend a week in Mexico City to go get her visa after marriage.

As Tim has gotten older, heavier, and harder to lift, Mexico has pretty much dropped off the radar for us. When he was young, it wasn’t too hard to lift him down a flight of stairs. Now, it’d only be done in an emergency…it’s too dangerous for him or me to do that now.

With that being said, there is plenty of Mexico within driving distance where we can have our adapted van and be able to negotiate around any bumps in the road so we’re trying to slowly increase our time down there and find out accessible ways to get around in this fascinating country.

Starting with our trip to Ensenada a couple of years ago and continuing with the next trip where we go beyond where any of us have been before down the coast of Baja.  It’s access in the rough, but we do find what we need…some of it in surprisingly beautiful locations.

It's Mexico Season! Follow along as we present our adventures in Baja California, Mexico.

Copyright 2015 – Darryl Musick
All rights Reserved

Monday, January 19, 2015

MEDICAL TOURISM: Yuma, Arizona - 2010

In part 1 of this trip, we introduced you to the little Mexican border town of Los Algodones, a very popular destination for medical tourism.

We came for the eyeglasses but there are many other medical options in town, especially dentists who seem to operate an office every twenty feet or so. Touts will sit out in front of practically every business but instead of offering strippers and other unsavory fare, they will be trying to get you in for a low-price dental or optical exam. Many pharmacies also line the streets selling brand name drugs for less than their U.S. counterparts. Other medical services abound here from normal general practitioners to plastic surgeons but opticians, dentists, and pharmacies pretty much rule the roost here.
Watch the video for this trip!

It’s 2 ½ hours until we need to go back to Algodones Optical to pick up our new glasses.  Another thing we like about Mexico is the abundance of really premium tequilas at low prices.  Although there are many liquor stores here in town, we end up at twin purple stores of the Liqui’s empire.

On the east side of the street, the largest of the two stores offers a literal supermarket of booze attached to its pharmacy.  Across the street, a smaller version of the purple monster offers a slightly more relaxed version along with its own pharmacy and furniture outlet.

Tasting bars are set up in each store and the staff is more than happy to pour out a few drops of any tequila in the store to taste so you can know if you like it before you buy it.

The uncles, Heliodoro and Hector, are two of the finest tequila aficionados I know.  I’m getting there, beyond a novice, but not quite there yet.  Tim’s just starting out.

Before you think too judgmentally about me, know that a fine tequila is as tasty, smooth, and delicious as a fine cognac.  It is not to be guzzled in quick shots down your throat before the gag reflex sets in for a quick buzz.  If it is really good, it is best enjoyed by itself…no lime or salt…sipped slowly for the smooth warmth of its taste.  Try a shot of Cuervo Gold followed by a shot of Hornitos Reposado…both similarly priced mid-range tequilas…to see what I’m talking about sometime.

We taste a few samples, some good, some not so good, and a couple of outstanding examples.  Since each adult can bring back a liter of alcohol duty free, we buy six bottles of various platas, reposados, and añejos (see our Cocktail Hour for October 17th…Tequila Tasting with the Tios…to see how they turned out).  Since the bottles are 750ml and we’re allowed a liter, we fill in the gap with 100 and 200ml bottles of various brands. 

An example of how much you save is the Clase Azul reposado I bought.  This is the unanimous pick for the best tequila we tasted today.  At Beverages and More, a 750ml bottle is $90.  I got two 375ml bottles for $30 each, or $60 for 750ml…2/3 the price of BevMo.

After our tequila shopping, we continue on for a few blocks because Letty wants to buy a galvanized bucket at the local hardware store.  Nearby is a nice, little town park with a few taco carts along the perimeter.  We take a seat at a nearby table and the cook comes over to take our order.  Some fresh cooked-on-the-spit al pastor, quesadillas, and the delicious Mexican Coke take the edge off of our appetite.

On the way back to the downtown area, we make one more stop at Liqui’s so we can pick up a supply of various prescription medications and over-the-counter drugs at deep discounts (if your prescription is not a controlled substance or easily abused, it’s not a big deal to bring back a few months worth of drugs – otherwise you’ll need an ironclad prescription from your local doctor.  Check the U.S. Customs web site for more information).

With that, it’s time to go back to pick up our glasses.  Once we’ve got them adjusted properly, we head back across the border.  Luckily, it’s the off-season for the snowbirds (who should be starting to arrive as you read this) so there is no line at the border.  One time we came here right after Thanksgiving and the walk-across line was over 4 hours.  The line for cars went way beyond our vision.

Today, there’s no wait and the border guards are friendly (that is not always the case).  A quick glance at our passports (mandatory now), tequila, medicine , and we’re waved through.

At the exit of the checkpoint, a hundred feet or so north, is an old canal.  It’s worth noting that 105 years ago the levee on the side gave way and it flooded for two years.  The waters settled 70 miles away and created the Salton Sea which, of course, is still with us today.

The uncles want to do a little gambling, so we make a stop at the Quechan Resort back up the road.

It’s a big casino, mainly slots and poker.  I take the time to go have a cup of coffee in their café while the rest of the group feeds the slots and plays a few hands.  Gradually, one by one, we gravitate to a nice little sports bar, watching baseball playoffs while waiting for the others to finish. 

It’s a nice little casino and an even better looking hotel.  I’m not much of a gambler so the games don’t leave too much of an impression on me.

After the casino break, we run to the border.  Crossing over the Colorado River, we head to Yuma’s big historical site, the old territorial prison. 

In use in the era before Arizona became a state in 1912, the prison was the facility for many of the West’s outlaws.  If you remember the move 3:10 to Yuma , this is where they were heading.
A Picture in the Museum Shows What it used to Look Like

It’s $5 to get in and, no, there is no discount for the disabled.  Seniors, military, students and kids do.

Once inside, there are great views of the Colorado River back across to California, a nice little park, a guard tower (inaccessible to wheelchairs), and a time line of the prison leading up to the old Sally Port.
What we look like now...

The museum inside has many displays about prison life, how they were processed, punishments, prison crafts, and so on.  One display explains how when prisoners were processed, they had their mug shots taken in front of a special mirror so that both a front view and a profile of the prisoner could be captured in one shot.  There is a mirror on display that visitors can use to make their own mug shots…

...and what it would have looked like back then.

Outside of the museum is the actual remains of the prison.  Heavy iron doors are mounted on 4 foot thick walls made of either iron reinforced adobe or rock.  One cell is unlocked so visitors can go inside.  Although the path along the cell block is accessible, wheelchairs cannot get inside of this cell.

Down the path to the end of the cell block is the dark cell.  Here, prisoners served discipline time when being punished in this interior, windowless cell.  With a little effort, wheelchairs can get inside here.  It is very dark and the remains of an old iron cage are on the floor…watch where you roll or step!

At the end of this building, a low passageway leads to the exercise yard and some newer cells.  We noticed iron rings in each cell that prisoners could be chained to.

Outside on a rocky hillside are piles of rocks marking the graves of prisoners who are buried here in the cemetery.

After our prison tour, we head back to the hotel and hang out in the patio having hotel pizza and beer, along with tasting a few samples of our newly acquired tequila (see the video of that here).

One more night of rest and it’s back on the road back home, stopping for date shakes in Mecca.

Our sight restored, medicines and liquor well stocked, and our bodies rested up, we end our trip early in the afternoon when we arrive back home.

Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, January 18, 2015

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Tequila Tasting with the Tios

Rudy, one of the bartenders in our "Southern California's Top Three Margaritas" video, told me this is his favorite Cocktail Hour video. For Rudy - Ed

Welcome to a very special Cocktail Hour here on The World on Wheels. We’re on the road for today’s episode, crossing the border into Mexico and bringing some premium tequilas back for our own little tasting party. As you may know from previous cocktail hours, I’m a big fan of the blue agave spirits.

With us today is Heliodoro, Hector, and Lupe…our aunt and uncles from my wife’s side of the family. The two uncles are pretty serious tequila connoisseurs, and I take their opinions and recommendations seriously when I’m looking for good tequila.

With that, it’s on to the tasting which you can watch in the video above. In the morning, we crossed over into Mexico at Los Algodones, which is about 7 miles west of Yuma, Arizona. We acquired around $300 worth of tequila, all but one of which I would consider premium or ultra-premium. Each person is allowed to bring back 1 liter, so the little bottles you see in the video were taken to add to our 750ml bottles to get as close to the limit as possible.

Back across the border, we had our tasting session at our hotel, the La Fuente Inn and Suites in Yuma. Here are our opinions on each of the tequilas…

Corralejo Reposado – This is made in Guanajato by Hacienda Corralejo. You usually see this in oversize blue bottles at your local liquor store. It’s not bad, definitely better that Cuervo Gold or the supermarket generics, and has a pretty good agave flavor. There is a tinge of harshness to the taste that keeps it from being a truly premium spirit. It’s along the lines of Cazadores…a good, solid tequila that is a superb mixer and a decent shot maker if you cut the taste with lime and salt. That right there is my line in the sand between a really good tequila and a superb tequila…premium tequilas need no help from limes, salt, etc. to be enjoyed. They taste too good by themselves to be adulterated by other ingredients.

1921 – Next is a trinity from 1921, another distiller from Guanajato. First is the plata, or silver, tequila. Plata is not aged. Just distilled and bottled. Right off the bat we can tell there is a big jump in quality from the Corallejo. Smooth. Great agave flavor. No harshness at all. An excellent, premium silver.

The 1921 Reposado – reposado is Spanish for rested. A reposado usually means that the tequila has been aged in wooden barrels for at least 6 months. 1921’s version is another smooth entry but the wooden aging overtakes the agave flavor a bit. It’s really good but not quite as good as the silver.

1921’s Añejo – aged at least a year – picks up where the reposado left off. Many añejos are aged in old whiskey barrels and the result is an overtone of whiskey flavor along with the agave. Some distillers are masters at this blending of flavors, others not so much. 1921 is a master at this. It’s one of the best añejos out there. This morning when we were tasting samples, we had a taste of Hacienda de la Plata añejo. It wasn’t bad. Then we had a taste of Hacienda de la Plata ultra añejo, which is aged for several years instead of one. It was very delicious and $56 a bottle. The 1921 añejo has an almost identical taste to the ultra añejo but is $30 less per bottle (note, these are Mexican prices – they are much higher in the States). This is where the difference in experience comes in. Nice, deep agave flavor with just a hint of whiskey hovering around your palate.

The guys will take a little break from tasting here so the women can try a tast of 1921’s delicious tequila crème. Think Bailey’s Irish Crème and you get an idea of what this tastes like. Letty and Lupe both like it and it tastes just like Bailey’s with just a hint of agave overtones. I’ve had this before, and if you’re in the mood for a sweet, chocolaty, coffee tasting drink, this is very good. Would make an excellent Irish coffee.

The guys will now taste another ultra-premium añejo by Degollado. Made in the town of the same name, south of Guadalajara in Jalisco, this is really rare in the States. An online search showed only one ABC store in North Carolina that sometimes stocks this. Bottles on EBay go for north of $150. In Mexico, I grabbed a bottle for $26. This is another ultra-smooth añejo with a bit of stronger whiskey influence than the 1921. I like it, as do the other guys.

We’ve got one more to taste tonight. As the sky darkens, I bring out one more bottle. This time, it’s the white and blue porcelain bottle of Clase Azul Reposado. Made in the highlands, north of Guadalajara, this is truly a special tequila. Smooth, deep agave taste, a slight hint of syrup. As incredible as the taste of this tequila is, the aftertaste lingers with a sweet, almost amaretto, taste on your lips and tongue. What a truly fantastic tequila.

We saved the very best for the last of a stellar lineup of tequilas. What about the calories, you may be asking (since we’re focusing on healthier, lower calorie drinks this year)? Each shot of tequila (1 ounce) has 69 calories. Since these tequilas are made for savoring, you can have three shots over an evening, slowly enjoying the warmth and taste, for only 207 calories.

Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, January 16, 2015

MEDICAL TOURISM: Los Algodones, Mexico - 2010

If you’ve got a full tank of gas and don’t stop, it’s just over three hours to Yuma, Arizona from Pomona, California where we started our trip. That’s if you go by the desolate Salton Sea on the southside via Highway 86. It’s four hours if you go on the other side on Highway 111 but you do go past Oasis Date Garden…where you can get free samples of delicious dates and a date shake, and Calipatria…the lowest elevation town in the Western Hemisphere (184 feet below sea level).

Watch the Video for this trip!

The only real highlight on the southern highway is the Red Earth Casino and travel center, which makes a real handy rest stop.

Date Shakes at Oasis Date Gardens
We’ve got a full van today as two uncles and an aunt are traveling with us. Our hotel is the La Fuente Inn and Suites, just off Interstate 10 at 16th Street. We have two junior suites, one for us and another for the aunt and uncles.

Our suite is designated “handicapped,” which means there’s enough room in the couch area to turn around and a path to the bathroom that can be (barely) managed by a wheelchair. The bathroom has a large tub (roll-ins are not available here) with a shower chair. The toilet is slightly raised and there are grab bars throughout the bathroom. The roll-under sink is outside next to the doorless closet. It is the closest room to the lobby on the ground level. There is also cable TV, microwave, coffee maker, refrigerator, ironing board, and an iron.

There is a free breakfast buffet in the morning with eggs, sausage, bacon, breads, toaster waffles, cereals, fruit, and yogurt. From 5-7pm there’s a happy hour with food (BBQ’d burgers one night, Pizza Hut pizza the next), beer, wine, limited cocktails, popcorn, and soda.

A very nice pool and spa are the centerpiece of a comfortable and pretty courtyard and there are 4 gas grills available for guests to use.

A nice, comfortable place to stay but partiers in the courtyard kept us up a bit the first night. A call to the front desk put an immediate stop to it though.

After checking in, we have dinner at the adjacent Cracker Barrel and spend some time chatting and hanging out together at one of the many tables in the courtyard before heading in for the night.

Yuma’s a decent town and it does have its amenities and even some very interesting places to see but no one would really call it a tourist mecca. Although we will see and do some fun, tourist type things while we’re here, there’s really only one main reason we came to town…medical tourism.

With medical costs so high in the U.S. and fights with insurers for coverage are common, many people take to crossing the border for medical care that is either not covered, hard to get insurance to pay for, or expensive. Communities have sprung up across the globe to cater to this type of traveler.

Los Algodones, just across the border 7 miles from Yuma, is just such a community. Why out here…basically in the middle of an empty desert? Each winter, thousands of people from colder climates like Canada, the Dakotas, and Minnesota, pack up their RV’s, trailers, and campers and spend their winters in the warm deserts here. These “snowbirds,” often elderly retirees, will need someone to take care of their medical needs. Algodones fits the bill almost perfectly.

It's also nice that the border towns of Mexico are the most wheelchair friendly of the cities of our neighbor to the south.  Plenty of curbcuts and ramps abound for wheelers but do watch for the occasional pot hole.

If you’re in Yuma, you’re going to backtrack across the Colorado River into California about 5 miles to Algodones Road. There’s a large Indian casino, the Quechan Resort, at this exit. Go south two miles. You can drive right into Mexico but we prefer to park in the large lot right next to the border run by the Quechan tribe. From the handicapped spaces, it’s less than 100 yards to walk across the border into Mexico. The cost is $5 per day, more for RVs and larger vehicles.

The lot is open 6am to 10pm (same as the border crossing hours). Your car is subject to towing if you leave it overnight.

Once across, we cross the street, make a left turn and walk about another 100 yards to Algodones Optical. Here Letty and Tim will get their eyes examined and we’ll purchase new eyeglasses. The front door of the optician is about 30 feet from the border fence across the street.

Algodones Optical is only open Monday through Friday so you’ll need to plan accordingly if you want to use them. There are many other opticians in town and you can see some of them on weekends if you can’t make it during the week. We like it here because of the quality of the exams, the extensive selection of frames, and the professionalism of the staff. It also helps that prices are a fraction of what they are back home.

Letty called ahead and made appointments for her and Tim this morning. If you do that…and buy glasses…the exam is free. Otherwise it is $10. Tim is first in. The exam first measures your eyes and face, then a glaucoma test, then the normal vision test in the dark room with the lenses and eye charts. It takes about 20 minutes and if you have an appointment, you pretty much go right in.

While we wait for Letty, I help Tim try on several frames and pick a few candidates. When Letty comes out, her and the doctor go over the frames we picked and finds a good one. While Letty and her aunt browse for her, Tim and I go to find the uncles who are browsing the shops down the street.

After haggling with a local about a belt, we agree on a price when Letty and her aunt show up. 

It’ll be 2 ½ hours before the glasses are ready for pickup. We end up with a pair of polycarbonate progressive lenses for Tim; another pair like that for Letty with the no-line bifocals, plus another pair for Letty that are polarized sunglasses. The entire bill is $500 for the three pairs (I got a pair last time and I have a pretty vanilla prescription so my exam, frames, and lenses were $20). That is what Letty would pay just for the sunglasses and her prescription at the optician our insurer sends us to back home.

Exams over with time to kill, we wander the streets of Los Algodones looking for food, tequila, and fun. 

Stay tuned for that part of the trip coming up soon.

Copyright 2010 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

ACCESSIBLE ATTRACTIONS: Phoenix/Scottsdale, Arizona

Our ratings are...

Fully Accessible - You can access all of the attraction, with no problem, in any type of wheelchair.

Mostly Accessible - You can access most of the attraction, and all of the important parts of it, with your wheelchair.

Partially Accessible - You can access a good deal of the attraction but some parts are inaccessible and some important parts you'll miss.

Inaccessible - Kind of speaks for itself, avoid if you're in a wheelchair.

Here's the Valley of the Sun - Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona...

Papago Park - Fully Accessible. Great wheelchair-friendly hiking with giant, scenic rock outcroppings. Avoid when hot.

Phoenix Zoo - Fully Accessibe. Use the lift-equipped accessible tram which allows you to get on and off as much as you want to fully explore the facility.

Old Scottsdale - Mostly Accessible. Boutique shops mix with burger stands and cowboy stores.  The Sugar Bowl not only has great ice cream, it was comic stip artist Bill Keane's favorite place.

Castles 'n Coaster - Mostly Inaccessible. Cramped quarters mean you won't even be able to roll around the state's only thrill ride park.

Rawhide - Partially Accessible. A western theme park known as much for it's great cowboy barbecue as it is for the entertainment.

Taliesin West - Partially Accessible. Frank Lloyd Wright's western outpost is much easier to visit in a wheelchair than his Chicago neighborhood of Oak Park.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, January 12, 2015

CLASSIC TRIP: Prescott, Arizona - 2002

The stereotypical image of Arizona is deserts, heat, cowboys, sagebrush, dusty, etc. Indeed, a trip to the dry heat of the Valley of the Sun can be very pleasurable...as long as there's a tall cool drink and a swimming pool nearby.

Not all of Arizona is such a hot, dry place. In fact, large portions of the state are covered with forests. Right on the dividing line of desert and forest lies the mile high town of Prescott, a two-hour drive northwest of Phoenix.

The western side of the city lies in one of the largest forests of Ponderosa Pine in the world while the eastern side leads into the desert. In the middle lies the historical core where the likes of Doc Holliday and the Earps once strolled.

Wintertime can be cold and snowy while the summertime is warm and dry.

There are many hotels, motels, and bed & breakfasts here. We have stayed at the Pleasant Street Inn B&B (not wheelchair accessible with rooms upstairs and one downstairs) just south of the town center and the Springhill Suites which are 3 blocks west. The Springhill Suites have some really good accessible rooms, some with roll-in showers, wheelchair level spy holes in the doors, and delayed key readers at the door for those of us who are a little slow in opening the door. There is also an indoor pool & spa and a free continental breakfast. An adjacent shopping center has all the supplies you would ever need.

Right on the town plaza is the century old Hotel St. Michael, which purports to have handicapped accessible rooms (we didn't get a chance to see them) starting at $59.

After a pleasant, three hour drive over from Las Vegas, we check into the Springhill Suites. Our room is large enough and has a king size bed with a full-size sleeper sofa. A quick walk next door to the supermarket nets us some wine, cheese, and fresh fruit for later.

It's only a three block walk to the town square from here but it's a bit uphill. Prescott is know for the one block stretch of Montezuma Street downtown that also goes by the moniker Whiskey Row. In the old west days, this block was wall to wall saloons. There are still several here although they now share the space with gift shops, clothing stores, and restaurants.

Whiskey Row burned to the ground several times in those olden days, some say fueled by all that alcohol. At the turn of the twentieth century, they finally got smart and rebuilt using bricks instead of wood. Those century old masonry buildings are what still stand there today.

Tim and I walk over to the entrance of the courthouse where a time line painted on the sidewalk takes you through Prescott history. Off on the south side of the plaza is the ice cream shop where Tom Laughlin kicked butt in Billy Jack ending in him smashing the bad guys head against the fountain across the street. On the north side is the Palace where Steve McQueen hung out in the film Junior Bonner.  

We decide to have dinner at the Palace. Inside the swinging wooden doors...yeah it's a real hoot barging your way through just like in the movies...is the original Palace bar.

When Whiskey Row was burning to the ground, bar patrons saved the most necessary thing...the Palace bar...by lifting it up and moving it across the street to the park. The Palace burned to the ground but when it was replaced with bricks, the old bar was put back in its place where it still serves thirsty customers to this day.

Behind the bar is the restaurant which this night served some good steaks and burgers but overcooked my wife's salmon.

Being a Saturday night, Whiskey Row lives up to its name with many college aged souls looking for drinks and good times as live music poured out of each saloon. On the other side of the plaza, theater goers pack an old church for a quieter evening watching a play. In between, the Prescott Brewery serves cold ones for those who are not so thrilled with the hard core drinking on one side but want something more than the theater on the other.

All in all, it's quite a lively place on a Saturday night.

Sunday morning finds us having a nice, quiet breakfast in the Depot #2 (don't know where #1 is) where Mexican dishes are served at reasonable prices in the heart of Whiskey Row.

After eating, we spend the morning shopping around the square where my wife picks up some jewelry making supplies at Bead It (a bead store), some candles, and some cosmetics at another store. An old-fashioned shoe store gives up some tennis shoes for her before we call it a day here.

A day trip to nearby Jerome is next on our to do list. This old mining town, turned ghost town, turned hippie town, which matured into an artist's colony, was slowly sliding down the mountainside before the ground was stabilized enough to stop it. As a consequence, access here is very spotty being on a steep hillside and all.

Still, a historic walking tour with the helpful advice of the Chamber of Commerce folks can be done in a wheelchair. After the tour, we stop in the many shops of the local artisans topped off with a stop at the saloon where a patio out back offers hundred mile views.

Back on the windy road to Prescott, we pass a fishing lake on the edge of town before being greeted by the city's two Indian casino's where you gamers will find lots of action. Us? We get a pizza before watching a movie with our wine and cheese back in the room.

Copyright 2002 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Cocktail Hour: Grigio, Schmigio

Still Lent here so we're trying some different wines supplied by the Wine of the Month Club. Today is one I don't normally look forward too.

Pinot Grigio, like Vognier, is usually too tart and maybe a little sour for me. I'd rather have a smooth chardonnay or even a sweet chenin blanc if I'm to drink a white.

Still, this is what was in this month's selection...so let's give it a shot.

Sycamore Lane is but one of the brands the Trinchero Estate sells. You might be more familiar with their low budget name, Sutter Home. Their line of low priced wines are better than the price suggest. At the winery, I was told this is because they owne everything, the land, the winery...everything.  Nothing is leased, it's all paid for and they don't have to price in their mortgage in the price of their wines.

So, lets get on with it. The bouquet is clean, sweet, with maybe a hint of pineapple.  The taste is more sweet, dry, and less tart than I'm used to. Another sip, and there's that tartness, under the back of my tongue.

Still, not a bad refreshment for this 70 degree afternoon on the patio.




Friday, January 9, 2015

Davis and the Delta...Exploring California's Sacramento River Delta

Over the years, our go-to hotel in the Sacramento area has been the Hyatt House in Rancho Cordova. It's been a few other names over the years but it's still the same building, sitting across Folsom Boulevard from the Sunrise Light Rail Station.

Watch the Video!

While the rooms and hallways could use a refresh, it's still a clean comfortable place to stay and...thanks to the Hyatt loyalty program...those several stays over the years meant the three nights here were just about free (I was just short of enough points for a three night stay so Hyatt just charged me $50 to make up for it).

We've always liked the breakfast bar here, with it's cooked-to-order omelettes, even though at times we've had to jostle in with Olympic athletes or hordes of Little Leaguers competing in a tournament. The days just before Thanksgiving are quiet, though. We almost have it to ourselves this morning.

Today, we're adding a new place to our in-state resume.  Our little band of travelers have made it to just about every nook and cranny of our Golden State but we've never been to Davis before.  Today is the day.

Actually, the morning.  Davis can be the clone of Claremont, another quaint college town near us in Southern California. We wander the streets talking to shopkeepers, browsing the stores, and ending up at a gluten-free, local sourced coffee shop and a grocery co-op, picking up some snacks for the road.

Yeah, Davis can be a kind of hippy town at times.

It's a cute town but with a heavy sense of de ja vu for us so we take our leave over to the Sacramento River Delta.

Not too long ago, my wife and I enjoyed a delicious Cabernet. My wife liked it especially. It came from Bogle Winery, which we find is headquartered here in the Delta. 

Just outside the town of Clarksburg with some breathtaking driving atop a narrow dike, we make it to the winery.

When parking, we notice the tasting room is upstairs. Quite a few of them, actually. Luckily, it doesn't take us long to find the big, two-story ramp on the other side of the building.

The wines are delicious and there are several sold here that can't be found in stores. We make a bread and cheese platter from the goodies we bought in Davis, and have a picnic with a glass of wine.

The flat Delta views are stunning, especially with the snow-capped Sierras in the distance.

In the morning, after another delicious Hyatt House breakfast (which is included in your room rate), we head up to Gold Country to look at possible places to retire.  We look in three areas...Valley Springs, Ione, and Plymouth...and quickly decide we'd much rather move here than over the mountains in the Carson Valley.

The Amador County Motherlode seems like the place we will spend the rest of our days after retirement. Can't wait.

Afterward, we go to see all of the friendly people who, by this time, are turning more into friends in the Shenandoah wine country, where we end up at a place you'll see time after time in this blog...Story Winery.

Still our favorite winery in the state, we have a grand time visiting with the staff who treat us like family every time we go. 

Letty swaps recipes with master cookie maker Della while I make deals on cases of wine.

Of course, another picnic on the beautiful deck is in order, maybe a little more special this time because last spring, a wildfire came very close to consuming this slice of heaven on earth.

Della points out the spot where a car's hot muffler hit the dry, drought-plagued grass and started the massive Sand Fire. Dead trees and burnt ground mark the fire's path across the canyon, right up to the edge of the wines.  

We're told that this year's vintage of Sangiovese (the closest grapes to the flames) will definitely have their flavor altered from the smoke.

That's it...we're done as we've found our spot to settle down and spend another night at the Hyatt before heading home.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved